The Boyfriend was pushing M&M's pushchair and I was carrying her, cuddling her to stop the cries of protest. Pushing through the crowds at the Ideal Home exhibition, we stumbled out into an open space strewn with litter and the three of us flopped onto a patch of dirty carpet. We'd done what seemed like miles of stalls and stands and Earl's Court must be one of the most inaccessible venues I've ever experienced.
I pulled out a sachet of food, gave it a good squeeze and hunted hastily through the changing bag for a plastic spoon to feed her. As I shovelled the gloop into her, I caught sight of The Boyfriend's sulky face over the top of her head; he was clearly unhappy about being so far from the exit and therefore a long way from his next cigarette. I was tired anyway, we needed to get going home once she'd been fed. I wiped the spoon, chucked away the remaining food (she'd rejected it and gone for milk) and as I turned to detach her from me, I noticed a bright yellow facade to our right. Tucked away in this corner was a stall for the Wean Machine.
WHAT IS IT?
Picking off the chips and ketchup, which had transferred from the carpet and stuck to my jeans, I rushed over in delight. I could see The Boyfriend wondering what the fuss was about and what a Wean Machine was. It's like a big plastic garlic crusher, the idea being that you pop the food in it and squeeze, hey presto, instant baby food without the chopping and mashing and pureeing. Made of yellow plastic, it has steri-touch (which means you don't need to sterilise it after washing), two interchangeable tops (one for fine mush, one for lumpier mush as your baby grows), an integrated spoon (no need to carry your own) and a plastic lid which seals the whole thing so you can just pop it in your bag. Dishwasher safe too. And it's designed so you can't catch your fingers.
WHY WOULD I BUY IT?
It seemed to me like a brilliant idea. You can just take this along in the changing bag and when you're out and about, squish the food then and there. It means you don't have to feed your child commercial baby food, they can enjoy a good variety of tastes and textures from your plate, you can save money. What really sold this to me was that when I was at home, I wouldn't have to get the blender out, with all the small fiddly pieces and washing up that entailed. I had this vision of just taking a bit of our dinner and squishing it up for M&M. No more cooking, pureeing, freezing, defrosting, microwaving, stirring and waiting for it to cool.
It was a little bulky, but I was reassured with the argument that the little well for the food was the same size as a 6 month old baby's stomach. So no portion control needed, no waste either. I pointed out that you couldn't possibly feed your child restaurant food because this would be loaded with salt. This argument was countered by research that The Harvester and so on had been approached and would happily cook veggies without salt for baby to have at the table. I was totally unconvinced of this, but I handed over my money (prices from £17.99 to £22 depending where you buy) and received a little board book about the wean machine and a messy mat free.
I realised pretty quickly that I wasn't really going to take the Wean Machine out and about to cafes and restaurants. Not only did I not trust them to cook vegetables and so on without adding salt (no commercial kitchen in a busy restaurant is going to cook your food separately in a special way on a busy night, trust me) but nearly everything I order when I eat out is dripping in sauce or spicy and totally unsuitable for a baby. Even if I had ordered this side portion of veggies and they had in fact arrived unsalted, this would still cost me £2 - £3. It was easier just to pick up say, an Ella's Kitchen pouch and know for sure that my M&M was getting unsalted organic goodness for a lot less money.
So that leaves home and holiday use. The Sunday following the Ideal Home exhibition, I was stood eagerly in the kitchen, waiting as the Boyfriend spooned a little of each of the veggies from our roast dinner into a bowl. Into the wean machine with them. I used the cap with the smaller holes, we had some turnip, swede, potato in there, this was going to make a lovely meal. I squeezed the two sections of handle together, exerting quite a bit of force, but it wasn't squishing the food. The Boyfriend tried and between us, we finally crushed the very well cooked veggies. It was very hard work and all we got for our efforts was a little tub of mucky looking water. I opened the thing out and all the vegetables had formed into a dried up little circular biscuit on the other side of the mesh.
I tried again and again over the following week. You can't squish meat or fish. You can't squish peas. You can't squish pasta. I wasn't able to squish any of our meals. I read the little board book, which told me I could squish apple or potato. I tried these, but the lumps were a bit big even on the small setting and I could get the same result with a potato masher, so I was really disappointed. M&M had been weaned at 4 months, so at the 6 month mark she was up for trying all these new tastes and a wide variety of textures. The wean machine couldn't support the different combinations, even if I did manage to force the food through the mesh, the results were inconsistent and generally ended up being thrown away. It might be okay for the first two weeks of weaning, when a child only wants one simple meal of a single vegetable, such as carrots, but beyond that it doesn't really work.
I took it on holiday and tried to use it instead of a blender. I would cook some broccoli and try to squeeze it, only to find that the water and food separated or the that the lumps weren't to M&M's taste. Then I would remember how good she is at self-feeding, so in the end I just steamed the veg and watched her happily stuff herself with it. There's a lot to be said for that baby led weaning approach that the health visitors are always banging on about.
Some months on, the Wean Machine still irritates me every time I see it jamming our cutlery drawer. It seemed such a good idea and it really didn't work for me. The most likely outcome is that I'll give it away to someone who is just beginning to wean their baby; I still maintain that it might be useful for those first couple of weeks. Everyone laughed at me for buying it and I suppose they were right. When I've been out and about and M&M's wanted to try something from my plate, either she's helped herself before I can stop her or I've discreetly chewed it up and then fed it to her. Gross, I know, but sometimes the old fashioned way is the best.
The sad thing is, I liked the inventor when we met her, I liked the wean machine and I really, really wanted it to work. It would have been so good. I'm giving the two stars for the idea, for the way she's put heart and soul into this, for the efforts involved in ironing out all the little issues and for trying so hard to get this onto the market. But try as I might, I can't get this to make the healthy little meals we need to put on the table.
Great for eating when out and about, it is so portable, self contained and easy to use. I have mashed lots of things from banana to avocado which I've taken with me when I've been out and in restaurants I've mashed cooked vegetables easily and not had to worry about bringing my own cutlery.
The machine has 2 levels of puree - one with smaller holes and one with the bigger holes.
We love this gadget and has made weaning really easy for us. The fact that the mashed fruitor veg stay in the built in bowl, means no having to carry extra crockery and the pulp of the fruit stays in a little section so it doesn't spill over everything. And it's dishwasher safe, so very easy to clean.
Funnily enough there aren't many times when I've used it when out when I haven't been asked by someone where I got it from when they see me using it - it's bright yellow so hard to miss.
The Wean Machine / Weaning aid.